4.2 What if That Was the Name?

Typically, all references to a variable are removed before the variable itself. But what if one of the references outlives the variable name? For example, consider this code:

my $ref;
  my @skipper = qw(blue_shirt hat jacket preserver sunscreen);
  $ref = \@skipper;
  print "$ref->[2]\n"; # prints jacket\n
print "$ref->[2]\n"; # still prints jacket\n

Immediately after the @skipper array is declared, you have one reference to the five-element list. After $ref is initialized, you'll have two, down to the end of the block. When the block ends, the @skipper name disappears. However, this was only one of the two ways to access the data! Thus, the five-element list is not removed from memory, and $ref is still pointing to that data.

At this point, the five-element list is contained within an anonymous array, which is a fancy term for an array without a name.

Until the value of $ref is changed, or $ref itself disappears, you can still continue to use all the dereferencing strategies you used prior to when the name of the array disappeared. In fact, it's still a fully functional array that you can shrink or grow just as you do any other Perl array:

push @$ref, "sextant"; # add a new provision
print "$ref->[-1]\n"; # prints sextant\n

You can even increase the reference count at this point:

my $copy_of_ref = $ref;

or equivalently:

my $copy_of_ref = \@$ref;

The data remains alive until the last reference is destroyed:

$ref = undef; # not yet...
$copy_of_ref = undef; # poof!